Last Friday, the local community in Hackney, East London came out onto the streets to protest against the killing of Rashan Charles, a 20-year-old black man who died on 22nd July after being chased and roughly handled by police.
Beginning in the afternoon as a vigil outside the shop were Rashan was killed, with chants of “justice for Rash” and placards affirming that “black lives matter”, by the evening, the Dalston demonstration had turned into a clash between young protesters and the police, as horse-mounted officers and riot vans were brought in to shut down the demo.
Makeshift barricades of mattresses, bins, and traffic cones were erected, and lines of protesters and police pushed against each other on the Kingsland Road.
The mainstream media have focussed exclusively on the violence that erupted on the streets at Friday’s demonstration. But this completely neglects the reason for this protest in the first place: the violence of the police, and the unnecessary deaths that result from brutality.
The explosive nature of such demonstrations is therefore not surprising. Nor is it new. In the summer of 2011, mass riots broke out across London in the wake of the shooting of Mark Duggan by the police. And more recently, similar protests were seen in response to the death of Edson De Costa at the hands of the police in Beckton, East London, last month.
Above all, these riots reflect the anger and resentment that has built up in local communities as a result of decades of growing inequality and repressive, racist treatment by the state. Hackney is well known as being one of the most rapidly gentrifying areas of London, with the cost of housing skyrocketing in recent years. The existing working class community has been squeezed out, or into pockets of deprivation with dilapidated accommodation - caged areas where the police focus their attention and forces.
The police, therefore, are seen as alien and antagonistic to these working class communities. When they are brought in to manage demonstrations, it is seen as a provocation and an act of aggression. As the old saying goes, if you go looking for trouble, you will find it.
Unsurprisingly, the right-wing press have reacted hysterically to Friday’s events, with the Daily Mail attacking local Labour MP, Diane Abbott, after she declared that the anger seen in response to the police killing of Rashan was “understandable”. Meanwhile, these reactionary rags say nothing about the injustice of Rash’s death or question what is being done to hold those police officers responsible to account.
Both Abbott and Rashan’s parents have called for peaceful protests. But as long as the capitalist state continues to treat working class communities and black youth with such brutal and racist contempt, we can expect to see these outbursts of rage and fury on the streets.
We need the labour movement - the unions, the Labour Party, and Momentum - to begin the task of organising amongst local working class youth, calling for policing to be in the hands of working class communities and their organisations, and mobilising to kick out this Tory government that acts only in the interests of the 1%.